Producer Quint Davis had hoped the 2017 Bayou Country Superfest’s forced move from Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans would reverse a two-year trend of declining attendance.
Attendance for last weekend’s eighth edition of the Memorial Day Weekend twang-a-thon was approximately 60,000. That figure includes not just the two nights of ticketed Superdome concerts, but also a free May 26 show at Champions Square and the free “Fan Fest” activities on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The total was certainly respectable, and may have been enough for the event to be a financial success.
Even for someone skilled in the art of selling pre-planned stage banter as “spontaneous,” Bl…
But a downward trend for three consecutive years has to be a concern. Around 100,000 fans passed through the gates of the three-night 2016 Superfest in Tiger Stadium, a higher nightly average than this year.
Did the move to New Orleans, necessitated by off-season renovations to Tiger Stadium, discourage some folks from attending? Maybe.
A weekend in New Orleans that includes hotels, parking, food, etc., can be more expensive than a weekend in Baton Rouge. The drive is longer for many residents of Louisiana. Maybe, as some folks have speculated, conservative country fans were turned off by crime in New Orleans — not that Baton Rouge is a crime-free Utopia — or by the city’s removal of Confederate monuments.
Such factors may have figured into some fans' decisions. But Superfest attendance was already shrinking the past two years in Baton Rouge.
And the notion that New Orleans by definition is not a viable country music market is not supported by the numbers.
Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw’s co-headlining Brothers of the Sun Tour drew 37,000 fans to the Superdome in the summer of 2012.
In July 2015, Garth Brooks sold more than 60,000 tickets for four shows at the Smoothie King Center, right next door to the Superdome.
Keith Urban scored the Smoothie King Center’s fifth-largest crowd of 2016, behind Maroon 5, Drake, Tool and Rihanna. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, the reigning couple of country music, packed the arena to the rafters on April 7 for the kick-off of their third Soul2Soul Tour.
Bottom line: Some country shows sell very well in New Orleans.
Miranda Lambert looked a lot different at the conclusion of her Saturday night show at the 2…
But the Bayou Country Superfest may be caught up in market dynamics that have little to do with New Orleans.
In the eight years since the Superfest’s inception, music festivals in general, and country festivals in particular, have proliferated. Over the Memorial Day weekend, Quint Davis’ Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans also co-produced the Country 500 at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida, with many of the same artists who appeared at the Bayou Country Superfest.
More festivals mean fans have more options. Thus, the pie gets sliced up ever thinner.
And while the number of festivals has grown, the number of country acts capable of attracting huge crowds at those festivals hasn’t.
In its eight seasons, the Superfest has featured several repeat headliners, including Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw and Keith Urban. This year’s closers, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, both performed at the 2015 Superfest; Thomas Rhett returned for the second year in a row. Some fan burnout is to be expected.
With all due respect to Lambert and Shelton, who each delivered solid sets at the Dome last weekend, they are not among the handful of superstar acts who can single-handedly fill a stadium.
George Strait, the most respected, prolific and consistently successful living country singer, pushed Superfest attendance to a record-setting 135,000 when his farewell tour stopped at Tiger Stadium in 2014.
Attendance in 2015 totaled 125,000 thanks in large part to Taylor Swift, even though, at her insistence, her opening night appearance wasn’t officially billed as part of the festival (she was fine being an official Superfest act in its first year, before her “1989” pop makeover).
Strait is no longer touring, preferring to host occasional residencies at an arena in Las Vegas. The only other mass-appeal country music option out there is Garth Brooks. But since launching his comeback a couple years ago, he has avoided stadiums and festivals in favor of multi-night stands at arenas.
Brooks is booked for five nights at the Cajundome in Lafayette starting June 23. That may have caused some southwest Louisiana country fans to stick closer to home and spend their money on him instead of traveling to Superfest.
Had Brooks or Strait been on the bill this year, many of the Superdome's empty seats would have been filled.
So did the Dome provide a positive aesthetic experience for attendees? That likely depends on individual tastes.
The news that Bayou Country Superfest producers will be taking their Memorial Day weekend co…
Those who have baked in the sun or gotten drenched by rain at Tiger Stadium — including Miranda Lambert — likely appreciated having a roof overhead. As Davis and his staff experienced once again at this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, it’s no fun for anybody when weather forces a festival to cancel acts.
But country fans tend to be a hardy bunch. Singing along to lyrics about working the land, being rowdy and drinking feels right while outside in the elements. And downtown New Orleans just isn't as conducive to tailgating as the leafy LSU campus in Baton Rouge.
The upcoming Essence Festival needs to be inside the Dome. Many Essence attendees dress up. Fancy shoes and sharp suits fare far better in a climate controlled environment than outdoors, as do such divas as Diana Ross.
By contrast, a sizable contingent of the Superfest faithful showed up at the Dome attired as if they were still going to Tiger Stadium. Cut-off shorts or short dresses paired with cowboy boots were a popular choice for young women. Given the super-chilled air of the Superdome, they had to be cold.
With Tiger Stadium renovations scheduled to extend into 2018, the Bayou Country Superfest will likely return to the Superdome next year.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who oversees the state’s department of culture, recreation and tourism — and thus is charged with helping the Superfest succeed — made brief speeches between acts last weekend. He encouraged attendees to share pictures on Twitter with the hashtag #OnlyLouisiana, “so next year, we fill up the whole Dome.”
If that's the goal, he better get on the phone with Garth.